In a $1.4 billion appeal launched on Thursday, the UN migration organization IOM and the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, warned that the pandemic has strained the capacity of Latin American and Caribbean countries to look after Venezuelan nationals.
Many refugees, migrants and their host communities now face multiple challenges that have worsened their already precarious situation, the agencies said.
“Lockdowns, loss of livelihoods and impoverishment are forcing many to become increasingly dependent on emergency humanitarian assistance for their health, shelter, food, protection and education needs”, and these needs will be targeted in 17 countries thanks to the appeal to fund a major response plan for next year, said IOM and UNHCR.
In total, around 5.4 million people have left Venezuela, pushed by a longstanding social and economic crisis - and ongoing political deadlock.
Evictions, rights abuses
Rising rates of evictions are also leaving many homeless and dependent on temporary accommodation provided by humanitarian organizations.
For refugees and migrants living in irregular situations, the struggle to access basic rights is even more acute.
“Prolonged, but necessary lockdown measures and mobility restrictions have had a detrimental impact on refugees’ and migrants’ capacity to maintain livelihoods and access to basic goods and services”, said Eduardo Stein, Joint Special Representative of UNHCR and IOM for Venezuelan Refugees and Migrants.
“Many have lost their livelihoods and simultaneously are not systematically included in social safety nets that have been established for local populations”
Their dire situation has led some people to consider returning home, often in unsafe conditions, raising additional protection and health concerns, the agencies said.
At the same time, the number of Venezuelans continuing to leave their country has also increased in recent weeks as lockdown measures ease and conditions there continue to deteriorate.
As borders remain closed, these movements take place mainly through irregular border crossings, exposing refugees and migrants to danger and great risk of physical and sexual abuse, discrimination as well as exploitation and trafficking.
Encouraging signs in host nations
Despite the challenges, there have been encouraging examples across the region of host countries working to ensure the inclusion of refugees and migrants in national responses to the pandemic, on par with their citizens.
Refugees and migrants are also supporting responses, with some working on the frontlines as health workers or disseminating lifesaving information, within their communities.
“The response plan announced today requires the continuous and increased commitment of the international community and the private sector to respond to this crisis”, added Mr. Stein. “Venezuelan refugees and migrants and their hosts require our collective support more than ever – both in terms of urgent life-saving humanitarian assistance, but also for development assistance to support local communities and long-term solutions.
The 2021 response plan (RMRP) intends to further strengthen the national and regional responses of host governments by supporting health, shelter, food, water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) interventions.
It brings together 158 organizations involved in the response, including UN agencies, international and national non-governmental organizations, civil society, faith-based organizations, and the Red Cross Movement.